Verstappen fastest in second Japanese GP practice
Suzuka, Japan: Max Verstappen laid down a marker with the fastest time in the second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix today, as he looks to put one hand on his third straight Formula One title.
Red Bull's Verstappen, who leads teammate and nearest rival Sergio Perez by 151 points in the championship standings, was last out on the Suzuka track in dry conditions.
He put down a fastest lap of 1min 30.688sec to finish 0.320sec quicker than second-placed Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.
Verstappen cannot clinch the title on Sunday but a favourable result can set him up to seal the deal at the Qatar Grand Prix next month.
The Dutchman is looking to bounce back from a disappointing fifth-place finish in Singapore that ended his record streak of 10 straight wins.
He made his intentions clear from the start of the day, finishing the first practice quickest ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and McLaren's Lando Norris.
And there was no let-up in the second session. He briefly ceded top spot to Leclerc before switching to fresh tyres and reclaiming first place.
Norris had the third-fastest time with 1min 31.152sec.
Alpine's Pierre Gasly crashed with just minutes of the session remaining.
Gasly was unhurt but his front wing was badly damaged after catching the barriers.
"Locked up, sorry about that," he said over the team radio.
Sainz, who won last week in Singapore, finished fourth followed by Mercedes's George Russell and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.
Perez was ninth, more than a second behind Verstappen.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was 14th in a tough outing for Mercedes.
Haas's Kevin Magnussen had a near miss with Sainz at turn two, giving the Spanish driver a sarcastic thumbs-up in response.
Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu suffered a hydraulic leak late in the session.
Lance Stroll was back in action after missing the Singapore race, following a huge crash in qualifying that destroyed his Aston Martin.